In the same week that the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report showing that the amount Arizona spends on public education per student is falling, and is now among the lowest in the nation, newly-elected Republican Governor Doug Ducey announced his plan to increase school spending.
Ducey said that he would work with the state legislature to draft a ballot initiative for the 2016 election (Proposition 123) to ask the voters if they want to distribute more of the money generated from State Trust lands to help fund K-12 schools. The state’s constitution currently limits the amount that can be distributed to 2.5% annually, so Ducey wants voters to approve a temporary increase to 10% for the next five years, and then 5% annually after that. He said it would provide more than $2 billion to the state’s schools during the next decade.
The money would certainly help the state’s schools, but it wouldn’t be available until after the fall 2016 election. Furthermore, special interests may convince the legislature to tack on extra measures as they craft the initiative’s language. Ranchers who lease state lands, for example, have been trying for years to get more favorable state grazing regulations, despite the fact that they already pay only $2.78 per month per animal. And real estate developers who purchase state lands on the edges of urban areas have complained about the State Land Department’s comprehensive urban planning requirements.
But even if the legislature provides an initiative with clean language that most voters can support, it doesn’t mean that Ducey believes education funding should be a top government priority. This was obvious during his June 4th press conference wherein he announced his plan. He made a point of the fact that his strategy included “no new taxes.” And although he didn’t make a direct reference to the ongoing negotiations over the $317 million initial payment owed to the state’s schools because the legislature illegally diverted money generated by Proposition 301, he implied that his plan would make that dispute moot because it would “put all the legal disagreements and disputes behind us.” He also said that, “Our public schools say they need more money to do their jobs.” But he didn’t say that he agreed with them, and he admitted that none of the money generated by his plan would go to the state’s universities, which took a $99 million cut in the budget that was passed this year.
Still, the bottom line is that Ducey’s proposal, if passed by the voters, would help the state’s schools. But that doesn’t mean that increasing education funding is one of his top priorities. It’s obvious that the reduction and elimination of taxes is perhaps his only real priority, and that strong political opposition is the only thing that will divert him from this ideological bankruptcy.
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